Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis has called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to confirm whether the national government intends to scrap plans to devolve the running of passenger rail to well-run local authorities.
This follows comments this weekend by ANC policy head for Economic Transformation, Mmamoloko Kubayi, that devolving rail is off the table for the ANC, stating she would “not advise any department to dissolve power or function to the metros”.
Kubayi is quoted by Sunday World on his views about rail devolution as follows: “You can’t do that with strategic infrastructure and important economic activity. Rail is one of the backbones of the movement of goods and people. We can’t give it to metros.”
Minister Kubayi’s comments do not seem to take any account of the fact that the service has collapsed under national management. The comments are also in direct contradiction with the national white paper on rail policy.
Approved by the national Cabinet in May 2022, the policy position taken in the paper confirms that passenger rail will be devolved to capable local governments. The basis for this policy is abundantly clear: the national government has failed to manage passenger rail to the extent that it is now all but dead. It now seems, however, that the ANC is making a U-turn.
The white paper states a devolution strategy for passenger rail would be implemented in 2023, but outgoing Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula has already tried to delay it until at least 2024. This is when a draft strategy will be handed over to the new Transport Minister, according to a letter from Minister Mbalula that Mayor Hill-Lewis received last week.
However, the latest statement from an ANC Policy Head rubbishing rail devolution creates utter confusion and forces the City to seek clarity on the matter:
“Mr President, is your government binning the Cabinet decision on devolving passenger rail to well-run metros?”
“We already know the national’s Devolution Strategy for rail is delayed until at least 2024, according to outgoing Transport Minister Mbalula. We need trains running daily on time in our city right now, not years from now, or ‘never’ as per the latest comment from your ANC policy head.”
“Is it true you have abandoned millions of commuters needing an affordable and reliable train service, and now never intend to devolve rail for the City of Cape Town to run?”
“Capetonians deserve a safe, affordable, and reliable train service, and the City’s ongoing Rail Feasibility Study aims to devolve rail in the shortest time. We are ready to re-establish a viable rail service in the best interests of commuters, and we are ready to work with the national government at any time to achieve this.”
“The fact is rail has collapsed nationally. Prasa now only transports 3% of the passengers it did a decade ago nationally. PRASA is now bankrupt, with billions lost to corrupt deals, including trains too big for the tracks. Change is long overdue,” said Mayor Hill-Lewis.
Mbalula confirms the delay of the national Rail Devolution Strategy
In his letter to Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis last week, outgoing Transport Minister Mbalula wrote: “My department, together with PRASA, have not been given a directive by the government and me to start with any form of devolution. The devolution exercises in the country will be guided by the Devolution Strategy which is currently in the development phase and is to be completed in 2024”.
According to Minister Mbalula, the National Transport Department must ensure the draft strategy is “submitted to the (Transport) Minister by 2024”, who must then still promulgate it.
In contrast, the City has successfully concluded the first deliverable of our Rail Feasibility Study – the Inception Report. Next is a status quo report on the state of passenger rail in Cape Town.
“However, the outgoing Minister has to date refused permission to the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa to share this critical information with the City about the state of its operations and rail assets in Cape Town.”
“The City is determined to find ways of resolving this challenge, should the National Government undermine our devolution efforts and requests for information. We will not be dissuaded from this.”
“We remain committed to working with PRASA and assisting where we can in restoring passenger rail. The City will also provide all assistance to National Government in devolving rail without delay in the interest of Capetonians who have waited long enough for affordable, reliable rail service,” said Councillor Rob Quintas, the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Urban Mobility.